The Seattle Storm hanged on to beat the Atlanta Dream 93-92 on Thursday night, and one rookie has the WNBA abuzz coming out of the game.
Yes, Ezi Magbegor hit the first three-pointer of her WNBA career, leaving her only 1,116 short of breaking Diana Taurasi’s all-time record. With as quickly as Ezi is progressing, don’t be surprised if she surpasses that mark by her fourth season.
Breanna Stewart had a team-high 27 points and eight rebounds in the victory, while Jewell Loyd chipped in 20 points in what was a shaky shooting night.
The Storm simply didn’t have a solution for Chennedy Carter, who finished with 35 points. The Dream guard is undoubtedly the favorite to finish runner-up to Ezi in the 2020 Rookie of the Year race.
- This was by far Stewart’s best performance since returning from her Achilles injury.
And more so than her 27 points being a season high, she showed the physical traits that make her so difficult to guard. Stewie had a pair of layups in the first quarter that resulted from her beating her defender off the dribble. On another she got ahead of the defense on the fast break to finish off an assist from Jordin Canada.
One source of reassurance as Stewart inched along the road toward recovery was that a lot of her game isn’t predicated on overwhelming athleticism. She’s a great shooter (be it of the catch-and-shoot or spot-up variety) who also possesses an array of post moves to get the most out of her 6’4″ frame. Even if she had lost a step after the injury, Stewart would be an effective scorer, albeit one who might not be able to put the team on her back like she could before.
Based on her start to the 2020 campaign, Stewie is every bit the offensive dynamo she was two years ago.
- Through four games, Alysha Clark was 1-of-7 on three-pointers. She went 3-of-6 from beyond the arc on Thursday, nearly mirroring her output in the win over the Connecticut Sun (3-of-5).
Expecting Clark to shoot 48.1 percent on threes again is probably unrealistic because it’s so much of an outlier relative to the rest of her career. For reasons we’ll get into later, the Storm really need her to hover in the high 30s or low 40s, so Thursday was a great sign going forward.
- Jordin Canada continues to run the offense well with Sue Bird out injured. Canada had six assists to just one turnover.
The transition from college to the pros is almost always more difficult for point guards. Mistakes are inevitable and easier to spot because they have the ball in their hands more frequently.
Now that she’s in her third year, the game is slowing down a lot more for Canada. While her 3.5 turnovers per 36 minutes are slightly higher than 2019 (3.3), the number is a little skewed by her 10 combined turnovers from the wins over the Sun and Los Angeles Sparks.
Canada’s defense, which is usually her greatest strength, was an issue Thursday. She struggled to contain Carter, which might have been partially due to an injury ESPN’s Holly Rowe referenced during the game. At one point, Canada was on the bench with her right knee heavily wrapped.
- Crystal Langhorne was really effective in limited minutes. She played only 6:22 but had five rebounds and one block.
The two-time All-Star is getting crowded out of the rotation with Magbegor’s emergence. Over the course of a tightly packed regular season, however, Langhorne could be a valuable asset if she’s able to regularly provide that kind of energy off the bench.
- We’re six games into a 22-game regular season, so it’s time to start getting at least a little worried about Natasha Howard.
Clearly Howard’s scoring numbers would come down with Stewart healthy. According to Basketball Reference, her usage rate climbed from 22.4 percent in 2018 to 29.4 percent in 2019, which was the highest on the team.
But there’s no way to sugarcoat a game in which Howard has zero points and attempts two shots. Her two rebounds and zero blocks also point to the fact she’s not providing the same kind of value that made her an indispensable member of the rotation during the 2018 title run.
Howard has so far failed to crack double figures in scoring or rebounds, and she has two total blocks. As a comparison, she averaged 13.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game in 2018.
- Clark accounted for half of the Storm’s made threes as Seattle went 6-of-21 from beyond the arc. The team is now sixth in the WNBA in three-point percentage (34.8), which is only a slight improvement compared to 2019 (33.6 percent).
Stewart is hitting 43.3 percent of her long-range opportunities, while Bird is 8-of-16. As a collective unit, the Storm still aren’t showing much improvement because Loyd’s three-point percentage is on pace to decline for the third straight season, Canada’s presence as a perimeter threat is nonexistent, and Howard isn’t stretching the floor at all.
- *makes sweeping arm gesture* The entire second-half offense.
The Storm reverted to 2019, when they were without the services of Bird and Stewart. There was a lot of ball movement with no real end result and ISOs that led to bad shots.
When the Storm can’t effectively run their offense, it creates a big domino effect beyond the fact they don’t score.
Seattle shot 6-of-23 in the third quarter, and all of those misses allowed the Dream to get out in transition. The Storm were out-rebounded 17-9 on the defensive glass in the second half.
Atlanta might not have been able to hurt the Storm as much in those situations last season, but that’s no longer the case now that the Dream have Carter. The rookie had 24 points in the second half, and four of her eight made field goals were layups.
If the game had been 42 minutes instead of 40, the Storm might have let this one slip away. Head coach Gary Kloppenburg should use the victory as a reminder of what can happen when the players let their focus slip.